Israel's Memorial day, 4th of Iyar, 5762; April 16, 2002

Next to my desk is an ever-growing stack of newspapers which I've been collecting ever since the cursed Oslo Death Process began. I want to share in the pain of the families, to know something of their lives and how they are dealing with the grief.

The world gets dry statistics about the number who died. But numbers don't tell stories, like the tragedy of two mothers in Haifa, Carmit Ron and Rachel Koren, who each lost their husbands and their only two children in the March 31 blast while dining in a restaurant close to home. Anat and Ofir Ron were 21 and 17. Ran and Gal Koren were 18 and 15. Numbers don't say what it is like to prepare a meal for one, to do laundry for one, to go past empty rooms once filled with the sounds of life and laughter and awaken each morning to deafening silence.

THE AGONY: Thanks to the generosity of American donors, I am often able to provide financial help to these families as they try to recover, at least physically. I read recently about a single immigrant mother, who lost her only son, a soldier, in an ambush. Her neighbors in Kiryat Shmoneh collected money to help her pay the rent, but the money was stolen from her apartment. I finally got her telephone number and called, expecting to hear the sad voice of a grieving mother. Instead, I got the deep, masculine voice of her slain son on the answering machine. "Sorry I can't answer you at this time. Please leave a number and I'll get back..." I was too overcome to leave a message for the mother, but I called back. That was two weeks ago and I'm waiting for her call.

THE ECSTASY: Ken Bauman mobilized all the students of his Maayanot Yeshiva to collect money buy food for soldiers, who were fighting at the beginning of this war without adequate food. They had more food and cars to deliver the food than he could handle! There has been a 100% increase in sales of Israeli flags compared to last year. When the reserves were called up, there was 120% attendance — including men in their sixties who demanded to be put to use. One wife said, "All of a sudden, they had no aches and pains." That's what a mission does for a person. I was able to provide food for soldiers and early warning systems to 10 settlements in the Shomron, which have already saved lives.

THE AGONY: The parents of 18-year-old Keren Franco waited seven years to have a baby. They named her Keren ("ray"), because she was a ray of light to them. That light was extinguished when a suicide bomber, dressed as an Israeli solder, blew up a bus on April 10. On that same bus was Shlomi BenHaim, a computer genius, who had given his fiancée an engagement ring the night before. The next day, another immigrant mother, Penina Yaskov, 22 years old, lost her husband in the Jenin attack. The night before, she had told her husband, Avner, that she was pregnant with their second child. The brother of Oded Kornfein killed the same day, was described by his brother as an outstanding musician, the kind of person who never complained. Nisan Avraham, 26, was not supposed to go back to his platoon after being wounded in the back, but he insisted. The slain are so often the best and the brightest. The little newspaper clippings state: "He was the outstanding scholar of the year..." "The most beloved child in the class..." "The one who helped everyone in the neighborhood..." "The husband who left love notes for his wife". "The angel..." Yochai Porat, 26, trained so many MDA First Aid volunteers. Gedalia Hillel Malek, courageously went into Arafat's compound and found documents showing that he himself signed the forms ordering payment to suicide bombers. Matanya Robinson, 21, the nephew of a friend, described him as "An optimist, a man among men, responsible, polite and dedicated." Shmuel Weiss, 19, "loved everyone and who was loved by everyone..." David Smirnoff, last year's karate champion. Just before Eyal Zimmerman, 22, was killed, he phoned his father from Jenin and complained, "Why aren't they sending planes in to bomb the houses which we know are filled with explosives." For the sake of CNN, which would treat the bombing of buildings as "Israeli terrorism," 13 soldiers were sent to their deaths. Yoram Levi was among the group. He leaves a pregnant wife and 3 children, 7, 5 and 2.

THE ECSTASY: El Al planes are full of students returning to their studies after Passover. I talked to one of the mothers who spoke about how hard it was to watch her son walk down the long corridor to the plane, strengthened with the knowledge that he was living out his dreams, if not hers. Friends in Judea, Samaria and Gaza tell me that soldiers stationed there are invited for Shabbat meals and, for many, it is the first experience of Shabbat in a Torah-observant home — the songs, the Torah discussions, the warmth and generosity of religious families. Soldiers all over Israel are approached by Chabad emissaries who offer to put on tefillin with them and are hardly ever refused. I've been out there and seen the most secular looking soldiers waiting in line for the opportunity to do this mitzvah.

THE AGONY: Thursday, March 21: At 4:15 in the afternoon. Eliahu, my 19-year-old son, — Eliahu, whom many of you know from numerous close encounters with terrorists — called to say, "I just want you to know I'm okay." A casual remark. But in today's world, it means, "I escaped another terrorist attack." And for the umpteenth time in these last months, I waited for news — how many have been killed, their names and ages — and me, suspended between life and death, a Tehillim (book of Psalms) in my hands, unable to concentrate but hoping that just holding the book will have some effect Up Above. Among the murdered were a husband and wife, Tzippi and Gadi Shemesh, who had just left Bikur Cholim hospital, where they'd been told she was pregnant with twins. They had gone to the city to celebrate. The family of the suicide bomber also celebrated by passing out candies to all the neighbors who shared in their joy at the massacre. Tzippi and Gadi added their two little girls, ages 3 and 7, to over 1000 children who have been orphaned in the last year and a half.

THE ECSTASY: Friday, April 12. This was one of the few Jerusalem suicide bombings that my 19-year-old did not experience. Phil Chernofsky, director of the Israel Center, survived with only a broken arm. Four of my students were either there or had family members who narrowly escaped injury. Thank God for the miracles.

THE AGONY: On March 9, Eliahu's best friend, Nati, was killed. Three nails, specially sharpened to do maximum damage, pierced Nati's heart. Like many mothers here, I am dealing with a child who is unusually tense, often awakens with nightmares and who wonders if there is a future for him. Not many 19-year-olds have had to identify a body in a morgue. Teen age boys don't talk much to their mothers. So I just listen as he searches for some way to come to terms with what is happening to him and to this country. Every once in a while, he throws out a phrase, like, "How could Nati be gone, just like that? So full of life..." He can't "digest" it as they say in Hebrew. He has become friendly with Mati, who was badly injured in that same blast. Sight was restored in one eye, but Mati is in constant pain from his injuries, has lost a great deal of weight and cannot sleep or concentrate on his studies. I urge him to be patient, reminding him that it takes two years for the brain to recover from such a massive shock. But it's hard to be patient when you're twenty and the future seems like a black hole with nothing to look forward to but more pain.

THE ECSTASY: Motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night), April 13. I went to Kever Rachel (the resting place of the matriarch Rachel on the outskirts of Bethlehem) in an armored bus along with an amazing lady, Miriam Adani and her family members, who bring food to the soldiers and celebrate Rosh Chodesh and holidays at the Tomb. They have printed 3000 books of Tehillim to give to soldiers on Independence day. My friend Riva Schertzman's 15-year-old daughter, Ilana, has become devoted to bringing Tehillim books to all the soldiers. Ilana's best friend, Shoshi Yishai, was shot to death as they sat chatting next to each other on the school bus a few months ago.

THE AGONY: Whenever I walk in to Kever Rachel, I stop by the fading newspaper clipping with the tiny picture of Ariel Hovav, a 26 year old who was killed 2 months ago near here. His son, whose Bris was held in that holy site, was four months old at the time of his father's death. So many young widows. So many orphans. So many people crippled for life. An internet site keeps us informed of who needs our prayers, like Yonatan Ben Rivital, a 6 year old, who is still in a coma with a nail in his brain from that Thursday attack. My prayer list is up to seven pages and growing with each new attack. Over a hundred and twenty killed in March. The night after the Passover Pogrom, which killed 28, the Gavish family of Elon Moreh lost 4 members, including Avraham Gavish, whose pregnant wife managed to escape with their little daughter.

THE ECSTASY: On Passover, a young Efrat medic, Assaf ben Batya, was seriously wounded while using his body to shield the rest of the Magen David Adom staff from harm. He survived, but has lost the use of his arm. My friend, Debby Fenishel's son, Natenel, was severely injured in that blast, but is out of the hospital and his mother says he is tired, but otherwise seems to be doing fine.

THE AGONY: On Friday afternoon, April 5, 17-year-old Rachel Levy went to the supermarket to get some last minute things for Shabbat and was killed along with the guard, Chaim Smadar, who grabbed the female suicide bomber, knowing that he was about to die, taking the brunt of the explosion with his own body. The teachers and students at the school where he worked remarked that with Chaim around, everyone felt safe. He knew the names of all the students and was especially fond of the handicapped ones, delivering them to their homes personally whenever there was a snow storm or unexpected delay.

THE ECSTASY: On the "intermediate days" of Passover, I drove to a small religious kibbutz near Gush Katif, where I visited with Moshe Sapperstein, a man who lost an eye and right arm in the Lebanon War in 1983. Two months ago, his other hand was practically shot off by a terrorist who stuck his gun right through his window and pumped bullets into his body after killing a young mother of two. Thankfully, two fingers on his left hand have been saved. And two fingers is a lot better than none. Many people lose limbs in these attacks. They are never mentioned in any articles... the forgotten ones...

THE ECSTASY: On April 1,when I tried to get past the huge tanks at the checkpoint leading into Bethlethem, the officer said that no one could go to the Kever. "Don't worry, I'm armed!" I told them. When they gave me a puzzled look, I held up my Tehillim. They smiled back. Suddenly, Rav Yitzchok Maoz, who lost his daughter in the S'barro bombing last August, appeared on the scene and convinced the officer to let us go in an armored jeep. Soldiers stood with their guns all around us and we were allowed only a few minutes with Mother Rachel, who is weeping still... as are we all...

THE ECSTASY: An hour ago, G‑d granted us a miracle. A Palestinian blew himself up at an intersection in Jerusalem where thousands of religious families live. A policeman, may his name be blessed, stopped the terrorist with his body. If the driver had gotten to wherever he wanted to go, there would, this pogrom would have taken an enormous toll.

THE AGONY: Many people here have a Massada Mentality. Between 70-73 CE, a small group of Jews were able to survive on that isolated mountain top, knowing that they would eventually starve or be killed by the Roman soldiers stationed below. Eventually, they chose suicide rather than grant the Romans the pleasure of murdering them. What do we have to look forward to? Why doesn't Sharon blow up the homes of the terrorists and expel the family members to any Arab country willing to take them? Why don't we expose the myth — that it is the Arabs who are the occupiers here and not the Jews? Why is the United States insisting that Israel stop fighting terrorism? Terrorism is great business; each terrorist is given between $7,000 and $25,000 by Sadaam Hussein for their efforts, depending on how many Jews are killed. In the meantime, Britain, France and Germany have placed an arms embargo on Israel. I'm sure that America will soon follow.

THE ECSTASY: We are alive. At night, when I return from teaching in B'nai Brak, I go through the almost deserted Modi'in road. At 11 p.m., it's just me and one or two "chicken trucks" alone out there. I identify with those hundreds of chickens stuffed in their green cages. We too are trapped. The only difference is that we know that there is a Higher Reality. The Kotzker Rebbe said: "Faith is clearer than sight." In answer to all the injustice, hypocrisy, terror and deceit in the world, let us do more. Study more Torah. Do more mitzvot. Give more charity. Demonstrate. Bombard the White House with letters of support for Israel. Praise the few Senators, like Engle and DeLay, who are on our side. In the name of these courageous soldiers and innocent civilians, may we treat each other with more respect, avoid the verbal terrorism which destroys so many families. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said: "Turn your pain into action." And trust in G‑d's love and wisdom.

NOTE: There are numerous charities which give money directly to those who need it most and do not waste money on fancy offices or inflated salaries. Among these are Chazon Yeshaya, Ken Berman's Ma'ayanot and my Adahan Fund for the Poor. Whatever funds we receive are given straight to those who need it most. Miriam Adahan 13/5 Ozrad, Jerusalem, 97277. E-mail: [email protected] Thank you for your generosity.